Jesus takes the wheel at German Good Friday drive-in

1 / 4

Pastor Frank Heidkamp talks to a worshipper behind the wheel during an Easter 'drive-in' service on a giant car park

Pastor Frank Heidkamp talks to a worshipper behind the wheel during an Easter 'drive-in' service on a giant car park

Hundreds of Christians in the German city Duesseldorf found a creative way to celebrate Good Friday while respecting social distancing rules imposed to slow the coronavirus, coming together for a "drive-in" service on a massive car park.

Most worshippers followed the mass -- conducted on a small stage by a skeleton crew of Catholic and evangelical clergy -- from behind the windscreen.

But a few keen heads could be seen poking out of open roofs into the spring sunshine, while other members of the congregation lowered the tops of their convertibles to perch on the backs of the seats.

"Of course it was a sad feeling at first, because I would have liked to be in my church... (but) with this car service we're trying to create a little bit of community," Catholic priest Frank Heidkamp told AFP.

"When people are praying and singing together in their cars, that can be an encouraging sign for them that they're not alone."

From compact city runarounds to flashy SUVs and even the odd scooter, the vehicles of the faithful lined up side-by-side in parking spaces usually reserved for visitors at the Duesseldorf convention grounds.

People booked free tickets online in advance, offering them up for scans through the closed windows of their cars.

Even city mayor Thomas Geisel and his wife could be spotted among the glass-and-metal ranks.

"We wanted to make the most of the opportunity and participate in an Easter service, when you're here in person it's very different from watching on the internet," said attendee Dana Baerwald.

- 'Living with the virus' -

Germany has been in lockdown for almost three weeks, with many businesses and schools closed and gatherings of more than two people banned.

Chancellor Angela Merkel asked citizens for "patience" Thursday, saying COVID-19 "will not disappear before we have a vaccine to immunise the population: and that means living with this virus."

The veteran leader is due to review the unprecedented nationwide restrictions -- currently planned until April 19 -- with regional premiers next week.

"This is a time like none of us has seen before," said evangelical pastor Heinrich Fucks.

"We don't know what's going to become of us. That makes it all the more important to have a moment of community, all the more important to find some hope here together."

Stepping down from the stage, whose altar covered in a white cloth supported a small cross and weighty Bible, priest Heidkamp moved among the rows of cars after mass to exchange a few words with members of his flock through their car windows -- maintaining a safe distance.

"You miss personal contact, the service and also the ceremonial side, communion and so on. I miss those in everyday life," said 53-year-old attendee Reinold Welbers.

"We're used to things being different, but maybe it can work like this," he mused.

At least in this western city the next drive-in services are already planned, with a mass lined up for Easter Sunday and a protestant celebration on Monday.

Elsewhere, online streams or radio and television broadcasts and even loudspeakers mounted on cars have been spreading the Easter message.